An Introduction to Two-Headed Giant

Posted in Ways to Play on January 14, 2016

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Oath of the Gatewatch is about many things. It's about Eldrazi, it's about Allies, it's about Kozilek. It's about Chandra burning things and Planeswalkers making solemn promises.

And it's about teammates.

To drive that point home, Prereleases all over the world will be hosting Two-Headed Giant events where you and a friend play as one, trying to defeat other two-person teams. So today, in preparation for the Oath of the Gatewatch Prerelease, we'll be discussing Two-Headed Giant—my favorite Magic format ever, and one I have had a little bit of success with.

Two-Headed Giant is a multiplayer format where teams of two face off against each other. Each team starts with 30 life and turns are shared by teammates. Each player is allowed one free mulligan, but it should be noted that the new scry 1 rule when taking a mulligan only applies if we're starting the game with six or fewer cards.

What Makes Two-Headed Giant So Much Fun?

We get to play with a friend! It's a chance to share the driver's seat with someone who's just started to play Magic so we can give them pointers and insight. It's a chance to teach loved ones how to play in a tournament setting while holding their hand throughout the event. Best of all, it gives us the opportunity to learn new angles and approaches to the game by seeing it through the eyes of another player.

We usually talk about card synergies when we try to pinpoint what in-game situations make for the most fun and interesting games of Magic. Two-Headed Giant gives us the opportunity to abuse synergies more than ever before by pushing a strategy with two players at the same time. For example, back in 2007, Slivers may have been underwhelming when playing normal Limited, but the additional power boost they received alongside a teammate who was also playing Slivers was enough to make the strategy nearly unbeatable.

These Slivers are relevant both thematically and historically!

One rule I like to make with my teammate at the beginning of any Two-Headed Giant event is that both players are required to confirm each play they plan to make with their teammate before they actually pull the trigger. Setting up this rule at the beginning of the event ensures that players don't get frustrated by a misplay from their teammate, and it also maximizes the opportunity to set up exciting plays by combining synergistic cards.

The goal, above all, is to have fun. After all, what's more fun than playing Magic with your friends instead of against them? But, if you do want to make sure to maximize your fun by winning, then read on.

How Should We Build Our Decks Differently for Two-Headed Giant?

Normally when playing a Team Limited event, our goal is to make sure each player on our team has a powerful and cohesive deck. In Two-Headed Giant, we want to build a pair of decks that function as a single well-oiled machine or work particularly well together.

We could want a pair of aggressive decks or a pair of control decks. We want to avoid having one aggressive deck and one control deck. Both teammates should be working toward the same goal.

Tandem Tactics | Art by David Gaillet

When playing with a pair of aggressive decks, it's extremely important to have a lot of evasion and spot removal. There's twice the chance we'll be facing off against high-toughness cards that can stop our entire game plan in its tracks. Thankfully, we're only playing one-game matches, so our opponents won't have an opportunity to sideboard into a deck that's better suited to dealing with relentless aggression.

Instead of splitting up the most powerful bomb permanents between the two decks, it's often better to put all of those cards in one deck while filling the other deck with countermagic or other means of protecting a teammate's bomb rares. Some rares and mythic rares tend to be good enough to win the game by themselves if left unchecked; we can ensure our teammate's bombs stick around by leaving open a bunch of tricks and countermagic on the turn our teammate sticks their top end.

One of the hardest skills to master in Magic is the ability to switch gears at exactly the right moment. It's important that we do this in unison with our teammate when playing Two-Headed Giant. We want to play offense and defense like synchronized swimmers, matching our teammate's plan for victory in an effort to maximize its chance of success.

What types of cards get better in Two-Headed Giant? What types of cards get worse?

When the game expands from two to four players, the values of certain types of cards change. Here's a solid starting point for evaluating cards in the Two-Headed Giant Limited format.

  • Countermagic, such as Spell Shrivel or Horribly Awry, gets a lot better in Two-Headed Giant, where those cards rarely find themselves stuck in our hand.
  • Tempo-oriented cards like Rush of Ice, on the other hand, tend to be worse because it's less likely that sacrificing value for the sake of tempo will be a winning game plan.
  • Combat tricks, especially cards such as Swell of Growth or Sure Strike, become quite bad when there are two potential opponents with untapped mana.

Don't be in such a rush to ice your opponents' plans; you may find another way to make them go horribly awry. Just be very sure when you strike. Because card puns.

  • Cards that force a player to discard multiple cards, like Mire's Malice, tend to get a lot better when there are two opponents with cards in hand.
  • The new surge mechanic is tailor-made for Two-Headed Giant, where it will be very easy to create a turn wherein a teammate has a spell to set up a big surge card. These cards should be rated quite a bit higher when you make the move to Two-Headed Giant.
  • Inexpensive vanilla creates are worse in Two-Headed Giant because they quickly find themselves getting trumped by three-, four-, and five-mana creatures with a lot of toughness.
  • Bomb creatures, fresh rare and mythic rare monsters from the back of the pack, are even better in Two-Headed Giant where they can be played and protected right away.
  • Spot removal, especially versatile spot removal like Bone Splinters, is much better when we're able to be more prudent with its usage.
  • What's more, instant-speed spot removal is better than ever in Two-Headed Giant, where double and even triple blocks are very common occurrences. We can accrue huge value off of our spot removal in this format, and careful planning and trap-setting with a teammate will often be the difference between victory and defeat.

What are the best playing strategies for Two-Headed Giant?

Here are a few other tips to get you started:

  1. When playing Two-Headed Giant, we often find ourselves with a cluttered board state. When this happens, the game will usually be decided by one significant combat step. The crowded nature of the format means that players will often be blocking with multiple creatures at the same time.

These situations give us a chance to accrue a big advantage that's often enough to win the game. We can attack with our 8/8, let our opponents block it with three 3/3s, and use a card like Complete Disregard to effectively kill all three of our opponents' blockers.

Always discourage a teammate from using instant-speed spot removal unless it's absolutely necessary or wildly profitable.

Blowouts like these are why instant-speed spot removal can be the key to winning or losing.

  1. Use deductive reasoning to figure out what tricks the opponents have. The chattiness of the format gives us a chance to figure out what cards or actions are important to our opponents. Try to think about what they could have based on their actions and conversation and use that information to play around their trick or set them up for failure.

For example, let's say our opponents have one very important creature in play, but it's being held back by a pair of creatures that can double block it favorably on our side of the table. We can be pretty sure that our opponents have an instant-speed spot removal or pump spell the turn they attack. This means we should either block with more than just two creatures or leave open the option to use some trickery of our own to punish our opponents.

  1. Potential board-clearing effects like Planar Outburst or even Rising Miasma are tremendously powerful in Two-Headed Giant, where we can plan the timing of these cards in such a way that we have multiple backup threats left over between ourselves and our teammate while opponents find themselves out of resources.

Join Forces!

Two-Headed Giant is an opportunity to play Magic with a close friend. Being a part of the same team encourages camaraderie in a way that's hard to capture in other Magic formats. The format is an excellent introduction to organized play, and this document should do a pretty good job of clearing up any rules questions you might have before heading to your local Prerelease to be a part of the action! Find a friend, find a Prerelease, and surge forth into the world of Oath of the Gatewatch!

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